It’s Monday afternoon and the Citadel theatres are dark. All actors have the day off.
However Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, co-creators and stars of 2 Pianos 4 Hands, are in the Green Room giving interviews.
Bright sunlight streams in from the ceiling to floor windows almost defying the leafless trees outside. Greenblatt sits at an angle on a big comfy sofa. Dykstra is casually sprawled at the other end, feet resting on a table.
A little over 17 years ago Greenblatt and Dykstra co-created 2 Pianos 4 Hands, a musical theatre piece that is Canada’s most successful export. An immediate hit, it enjoyed over 4,000 performances in 200 cities including New York, London and Tokyo.
But on Thursday, Oct. 31, the musical opens at the Citadel Theatre for a three-week run celebrating its farewell tour.
As Dykstra explains, “We both have a lot to do. We’ve put our lives on hold and made huge personal sacrifices. Richard has a four-year-old child and I have a 10- and 12-year-old. We’ve played Toronto five times and that option is not appealing any longer. So let’s have one last glorious bit of fun.”
Although the tour signals the end of era, the duo is filming the last three Citadel performances with the intent of making a broadcast-quality film or DVD.
The seed for the two-hander percolated in 1993 while Dykstra and Greenblatt were cast in So You Think You’re Mozart where the duo discovered many similarities they shared.
Each had studied piano with strong female teachers (Dykstra in St. Albert under Dr. Lillian Upright, Greenblatt in Montreal). Each had won province-wide competitions and dreamt of a life as a concert pianist. Both eventually realized they lacked the talent to play Carnegie Hall.
Creating a show around their experiences was the next step. As a collective of two, Dykstra and Greenblatt shared inspiring music and stories of their lives. The actors quickly discovered they were a natural comedy team.
“We’d improvise while Ted sat in front of the computer,” laughs Greenblatt.
“In between we’d play bridge,” interjects Dykstra.
But they also shared a few tensions. Dykstra wanted to focus on fun and entertainment. Greenblatt pushed for depth.
“We talked about the show and in the end we created something that was bigger than the sum of its parts,” Greenblatt explains.
It took close to two years and several workshops, but from the get-go it was a hit.
“It became an international phenomena. Nobody was prepared. It took off. As a playwright, you hope your friends will like it. You hope the audience will like it. All things that followed happened so unplanned and we were along for the ride.”
Although the two-hander has been called semi-autobiographical, both artists point out their similarities were merely a springboard for the action.
“People see themselves in this show, it’s not just about the production. It’s about the pursuit of excellence. It’s about childhood dreams and confronting our limit. There is lots of commonality in this show,” Dykstra notes.
As the years passed, the two pianists refined their acting chops, developed stronger pianistic skills and added more depth.
Even after countless productions, “We pride ourselves in being fresh. We pride ourselves in never being on autopilot,” comments Greenblatt.
Dykstra closes by saying, “You have to put yourself in the position that it’s happening for the first time and this show is the ultimate test.”